Maine is in need of a revolution to end its corrupt and ineffective system of fish and wildlife management. There are growing signs that a citizen-led revolution has begun. Last fall, 279,617 Maine voters said “yes” to banning the cruel and unsportsmanlike practices of bear baiting, trapping and hounding. A swing of less than 3.5 percent of the votes would have changed the outcome.
The bear referendum was apparently too close for comfort for a small number of hunters who succeeded in getting multiple bills introduced in this legislative session in an attempt to ban future wildlife-related citizen referendums. Their shotgun approach resulted in bills ranging from placing limits on the referendum process to making killing wildlife a constitutional right rather than a privilege. Under the guise of democracy, anti-democratic legislation continues to be promoted at the expense of the many by those who want complete control over Maine’s fish and wildlife management.
During the recent legislative session, more than 50 fish and wildlife bills were sponsored on behalf of those who kill wildlife. Only two bills were sponsored on behalf of wildlife and wildlife advocates. They dealt with trapping and hounding bears and were both killed with unanimous “no” votes in the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
Maine’s system of fish and wildlife management is a farce. A majority of the members of the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee are members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Two members serve on the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s board of directors, and one is a registered Maine guide who votes on bills that may affect his “private right as distinct from the public interest” in possible violation of legislative rule 104 — conflict of interest. It is no wonder that only two pro-wildlife bills were sponsored. During the public hearing, both sponsors were publicly castigated by Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s executive director for sponsoring legislation they knew had no chance of passage.
Wildlife watchers in Maine vastly outnumber hunters and spend some $800 million annually, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. This is more than the amount spent by hunters and fishermen combined. One would think that the numbers of nonconsumptive users and their financial contribution would at least buy them a seat at the table, but it does not.
This number of votes in favor of banning bear baiting, hounding and trapping signals the beginning of the end for those who want to maintain their vise grip on Maine’s fish and wildlife.
Many consumptive users believe they are entitled to control the system because they purchase licenses to hunt, fish or trap. Many of these same consumptive users complain that nonconsumptive users do not pay their fair share. In response to them I propose a new tax (much like the tax paid on the purchase of guns and ammunition) to go into, say, a wildlife and habitat preservation fund. The tax should be levied on goods and services such as birdseed, bird feeders, camping equipment, feed and feeders for wild deer, canoes and kayaks, mountain bikes, climbing equipment, and whale and moose watching trips. The increased revenue may even allow for decreasing the cost of resident hunting and fishing licenses.
The bottom line is that those who enjoy watching Maine’s wildlife and those who profit from wildlife watching need to start re-investing back into wildlife and habitat preservation. To those who would object to such a tax, I would ask, “What do they intend to do when the wildlife is gone?”
It is past time for nonconsumptive users to be represented in the political system. Choosing an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee member solely on the basis of whether he or she hunts is no longer good enough. Having little or no nonconsumptive user representation on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner’s Advisory Council is no longer good enough. Approving or denying legislation based on the recommendation of a committee that is biased, self-serving and beholden to special interests is no longer good enough.
Much can and needs to be done to bring Maine into compliance with its statutory mandates for fish and wildlife management. Much can and needs to be done to make Maine responsive to all of its residents rather than a small, vocal minority. The time for that change is now.
John Glowa of China is a longtime wildlife advocate. He is founder and president of the Maine Wolf Coalition.